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By ALEX WICKHAM
Good Tuesday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
PRINCE’S SPEECH: Prince Charles will deliver the Queen’s Speech this morning — after the monarch pulled out due to “episodic mobility problems” — unveiling the legislative agenda that Boris Johnson hopes will take his government past COVID and Partygate and reset his premiership ahead of the next general election.
The scale of the challenge for the prime minister is huge: He will hope today’s policy announcements can placate a public worried about the cost of living crisis, are bold enough to deliver on the “leveling up” rhetoric that won the last election, arrest the decline in Tory poll numbers and give the government a raison d’être for the second half of this parliament post-corona.
But Johnson also has to square the circle … with a cautious chancellor, grave concerns about the inflationary effect of public spending, and backbenchers and advisers who want him to jettison “un-conservative” policies and slash taxes and the size of the state — all while somehow presenting a coherent vision and strategy attractive to voters in both the Red Wall and traditional Conservative heartlands. Today obviously won’t fix all the problems of Johnson’s administration. The question is whether it provides anything like a compelling case that it can start to deal with these massive and often conflicting issues before the public delivers its verdict at the polls.
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TIMINGS: Charles will speak at around 11.30 a.m. … The Commons meets at 2.30 p.m. when an address in answer to the speech is moved and seconded by two MPs. The Spectator’s James Heale reported these will be Graham Stuart (proposer) and Fay Jones (seconder) … Then Labour leader Keir Starmer and Johnson are called to debate the speech.
And in the days ahead: The Queen’s Speech is then debated in the Commons on Wednesday, Thursday, as well as next week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The debates are divided up into themes by Labour.
Charles’ opening line … Playbook is told, will be that “the government will grow the economy, ease the burden and level up the U.K.” Sound the slogan klaxon.
Playbook has been sent Johnson’s opening words for the Commons debate: “During the pandemic, this government worked night and day at extraordinary speed to protect lives and livelihoods across our whole United Kingdom, whether by injecting £400 billion of direct support for the economy and supporting jobs through our world-leading furlough scheme, becoming the first country in the world to administer an approved COVID vaccine, or by delivering the largest testing program and the fastest vaccine booster campaign in Europe, all of which allowed us to retain the most open economy and society across our continent with the fastest growth in the G7 last year.”
It’s a BC (Before COVID) and AC (After COVID) theme: “Now we will bring that same urgency, impatience, and determination to deliver on our mission of getting our country back on track and easing the burdens on families and businesses across the land. That’s why we’ve already committed £9.1 billion to assist with energy costs alone. We’re giving people £150 back on their council tax-cutting fuel duty, increasing the Warm Homes Discount, creating a £330 tax cut for 30 million workers by raising the National Insurance threshold, and delivering the biggest ever increase in the National Living Wage, worth an extra £1,000 a year for those working full time. But however great our compassion and our ingenuity, we cannot simply spend our way out of this problem; we need to grow our way out of it, by creating hundreds of thousands of new high wage, high skilled jobs all across the country.”
What can we expect today? Downing Street announced last night that today’s speech would reveal 38 new bills. Playbook has tried to piece together as many as possible below from sources familiar with the contents, and reporting in the papers over the last few days. (Worth stressing this is not an exhaustive list.)
Public Order Bill: The main announcement trailed by the government into today comes firmly under the “crime” heading in the new No. 10 comms grid. Home Secretary Priti Patel will go after “guerrilla protests” like those by Extinction Rebellion that are “causing misery to the hard-working public, costing millions in taxpayers’ money and putting lives at risk.” That includes a crackdown on so-called “locking-on” tactics to major transport projects and infrastructure, which Patel says disrupts thousands of journeys. Playbook is told this will be one of several crime-themed bills as the government seeks to make this the key theme of the Queen’s Speech.
Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill: This was what the government was pushing over the weekend. It should devolve powers to local leaders to revitalize high streets and prevent shops from standing empty, and could create a duty for the government to report every year on its 12 leveling up missions.
Schools Bill: Trailed yesterday too, this will apparently “level up education so no child is left behind.” Measures include new regulations of academy trusts, a new direct National Funding Formula, requiring schools to publish an attendance policy and giving Ofsted more powers to crack down on “unregistered schools” operating illegally.
Transport Bill: Transport Secretary and government infomercial star Grant Shapps’ pride and joy, this will give his “Great British Railways” powers to take control of railway network functions.
Economic Crime Bill: Significant in the wake of the Russia sanctions, this could see some reform of Companies House and measures to update laws on cryptocurrency.
Counter-State Threats Bill: Another important one following the Ukraine war, this would likely be a vehicle to reform the Official Secrets Act, create some sort of Foreign Influence Registration Scheme and clamp down on British firms in the pay of Vladimir Putin acolytes.
Bill of Rights: At long last, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab will achieve his dream of replacing the Human Rights Act. Expect lots of Tory tub-thumping about enshrining the freedom of speech.
Financial Services Bill: The government is already carrying out reviews into various aspects of financial regulation, such as the Wholesale Markets Review, Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework Review, Review of the U.K. Funds Regime and the Solvency II Review.
Data Bill: Another “Brexit dividend,” the government will get to revise the EU’s GDPR data protection regime.
Higher Education Bill: This will bring in the government’s plan for a”lifelong loan entitlement” to allow people to fund further education at any point in their adult life.
Procurement Bill: The Whitehall reform favorite — it sounds like this will put into action the recent white paper on Transforming Public Procurement, so increased flexibility with procurement.
Energy Bill: Plenty of net-zero stuff in here, all about boosting investment in low carbon technology and energy-efficient homes.
Free Trade Agreement Bill: Another Brexit one, as some new trade deals require additional primary legislation.
Broadcasting Bill: This is Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ bill to privatize Channel 4.
Social Housing Reform Bill: It sounds like there will be something to improve safety standards in the wake of Grenfell.
Private Rented Sector Bill: This could introduce a “decent homes standard” in the private rented sector. It could also explore the creation of a National Landlord Register.
Competition Bill: Strengthening the Competition and Markets Authority, more rights for consumers and possibly a Digital Markets Unit.
Leasehold Reform Bill: This should make it easier to buy a freehold or extend a lease.
Infrastructure Bank Bill: This would establish the Infrastructure Bank as a statutory body.
‘P&O crackdown’ bill: That’s Playbook’s unofficial name for it, but the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith reports this morning that there will be legislation to force P&O to pay staff on its ferries the minimum wage, with ships blocked from mooring at ports if they don’t comply.
Draft Mental Health Bill: Reforms to how mental health patients are detained and modernizing the old Mental Health Act from the 1980s.
Draft Conversion Therapy Bill: But not banning trans conversion therapy, as per last month’s row.
There are also four bills carried over from the last session: The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill … Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill … Online Safety Bill … Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill.
What’s missing? So far Playbook hasn’t heard anything about a planning or housebuilding bill following mega Tory wars on the subject, nor any new bill on health care or the NHS, nor anything on defense spending — which all seem like pretty major areas that ministers feel need attention. The word is the government also planned a carers’ leave bill and a nature bill, but they appear to have been whacked as No. 10 aides sought to trim down excess legislation they didn’t like the look of. The FT’s Jim Pickard has a good analysis of barnacles-off-the-boat bill-stripping Johnson adviser David Canzini and the legislation dropped from today’s speech.
Also not making an appearance: … is the Animals Abroad Bill, with its promised fur and foie gras import bans, and its trophy hunting import ban, after Commons leader Mark Spencer and the whips office blocked it for being a bit too un-Conservative. “Forgive me for being Conservative, but I don’t think the Conservative Party is into banning things for the sake of it,” one minister told POLITICO’s Emilio Casalicchio, who reports in the Morning Trade UK newsletter that the measure could still come forward through quieter backbench bills or through being slipped into other smaller bits of legislation. “If they try and keep it out of the queen’s speech, then that would be reneging on one of these wonderful manifesto promises that we keep being told we’re adhering to,” backbench Tory MP Roger Gale told Emilio.
Is that it? The Sun’s Kate Ferguson has a top story reporting that the PM is considering a suite of options to tackle the cost of living crisis, including: cutting VAT, bringing forward Rishi Sunak’s planned income tax cut, or turning the chancellor’s £200 energy bill loan into a grant. The paper runs a great quote from a Tory MP having a pop at Cabinet poshos: “For most of the Cabinet, it is a choice between heating or Eton.”
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IN STARM’S WAY: Labour leader Keir Starmer has gambled his political career on the outcome of Durham police’s investigation into his curry and beer gathering last year, vowing to resign if he receives a fixed penalty notice. Deputy leader Angela Rayner made the same commitment. Starmer attempted to draw a distinction between himself and PM Johnson by stressing values of “integrity” and “honesty” as he again insisted he had done nothing wrong — despite reports from a source present in the Sunday newspapers, a person familiar with the matter speaking to Playbook, followed up widely again in today’s papers, that staff present at the event were drunk and no work was taking place. Labour say those claims are untrue.
There are broadly two ways of reading the Starmer statement … as anyone lucky enough to have been on Twitter yesterday will have seen. Starmer’s decision to give a televised press statement discussing the possibility of his resignation, which led the news bulletins for the rest of the day, could set him apart from Johnson if he is ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing by Durham police. As Starmer tells the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar in an interview this morning: “It’s about who I am, the integrity that I have and the integrity I want to see in politics … I think it’s very important to make clear that not all politicians are the same.” This theory goes that if Starmer is cleared, he’ll then be able to demonstrate clear water between himself and Johnson — who has received a fine — double down on calls for him to quit and pressure Tory MPs to move against him.
A more cynical position … however, would argue that Johnson is extremely unlikely to resign of his own accord under any circumstances, and Tory MPs have refrained from moving against him so far. So, Starmer’s intervention may have a different benefit: boldly tying the career of the leader of the opposition to a decision by a police force, and therefore applying pressure on them not to end him with a fine. An ally of Starmer overshares to ITV’s Dan Hewitt that this is part of Labour’s strategy, revealing they hope “it puts some pressure on Durham Police who are being leant on in one direction.” The Times‘ Chris Smyth reckons: “Starmer may be thinking that if Durham police can be pressured by the Tories into reopening an investigation they said was closed, they could be pressured by him into backing off from any criticism unless they are absolutely certain rules were broken.” And former Times pol ed Francis Elliott agrees: “It’s effectively what [Tony] Blair did on cash for honurs [sic]. He made it clear he’d quit if interviewed under caution. He wasn’t interviewed under caution.”
Feeling the pressure: The Mail splashes once again on the story, accusing Starmer of just that. It quotes minister Chris Philp, who says it’s “deeply inappropriate that Sir Keir appears to be attempting to pressure the Police into clearing him with his announcement just now — by the admission of his own aides.” An adage for 2022 politics: I help the coppers with their inquiries, he applies outrageous pressure on the police.
The big unanswered question: Starmer has implied he would only quit if he is issued with a fixed penalty notice by Durham police. But that force has previously had a policy of not issuing FPNs for retrospective breaches, merely making a judgment that a breach may have occurred instead. In this scenario, Starmer may be criticized but attempt to stay in place, somewhat discrediting those “integrity” arguments. Alternatively, what happens if the police find the event itself saw rule breaches, without going after everyone present? These hypothetical questions are the sort of thing we will have weeks to talk about as the cops investigate.
How the decision was made: The Times‘ Henry Zeffman and Patrick Maguire have been briefed that Starmer made his mind up early on that he wanted to pre-announce his resignation, before taking soundings from senior aides and Shadow Cabinet members Rachel Reeves and Emily Thornberry.
Case for the defense: The Guardian’s Jess Elgot has been briefed that Labour says it can prove Starmer’s team worked beyond 1 a.m. on the night in question thanks to “time-stamped logs of WhatsApp chats, documents and video edits — which it will provide to the investigation by Durham police.” However, “Not all participants in the WhatsApp group were at the hall — and Starmer is not a member of either group.” Whether or not this changes the police’s view of whether a group curry with beer was “reasonably necessary” for this work to take place remains to be seen.
It’s possible there was a bit of overthinking going on yesterday: The reality is we simply won’t know how the developments of the past week will impact the future careers of Starmer or Johnson until the two police forces finish investigating each man. But betting your entire career on an opaque decision by a police force that you cannot control is pretty obviously not an ideal place for any senior politician to be in. Starmer’s team would argue it makes little difference anyway as his position would always have been untenable if he received an FPN.
Meanwhile: Most papers run with runners and riders for the next Labour leader, something which you suspect will only continue in the coming weeks. In Red Box, Patrick Maguire tips Lisa Nandy, Wes Streeting, Yvette Cooper, David Lammy and Rachel Reeves.
STATE OF THE UNION
LOOMING STORMONT CRISIS: The DUP have — as expected — confirmed they will not go back into government in Northern Ireland until unionist issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved. Leader Jeffrey Donaldson told journalists after meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that “decisive action” is required from the U.K. on the protocol, for there to be any chance of his party nominating ministers. As it stands, a vote in the new assembly’s first meeting on Friday to nominate the power-sharing first ministers will not be able to go ahead. The BBC’s Chris Andrews has more.
About that decisive action: Following a Cabinet row, the Queen’s Speech will contain only a “veiled a threat to Brussels” rather than much-briefed plans to tear up the protocol, a U.K. official confirms in Cristina Gallardo, Shawn Pogatchnik and Leonie Kijewski’s story for POLITICO. The threat, worded as a pledge to protect the Good Friday Agreement, will leave the door open for the government to use legislation to dis-apply parts of the protocol soon if continuing talks with the EU don’t yield a deal.
How soon is now: The Times’ Patrick Maguire, Oliver Wright and Chris Smyth report that Truss has already given up on talks with the EU and will move, potentially next week, to use legislation to effectively dis-apply — or, in other words, scrap — parts of the protocol. Truss has been told the plans will result in the EU suspending almost all cooperation with the U.K, likely in a trade war and in the EU instigating legal action against the government, but the foreign secretary will go ahead with it anyway as she believes talks with the EU’s Brexit point-man Maroš Šefčovič have hit an impasse.
An awkward Chevening ahead: Face-to-face discussions between Truss and Šefčovič are expected to resume Thursday when the foreign secretary will welcome him to her Chevening residence.
Cabinet disunion: There’s plenty of detail in the reports on the protocol on the cabinet rows, confected and otherwise, that have taken place as the government tries to figure out its policy on Northern Ireland. Both POLITICO and PoliticsHome’s Adam Payne report that Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove are urging a more cautious approach than Truss, favoring continued negotiations rather than risking EU wrath by taking action against the protocol now. Intriguingly enough, both Payne and the Times quote a government source who said that the above claim is “leadership feather fluttering” from Truss, designed to appeal to the Tory right.
STURGEON GOES GLOBAL: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will fly to the U.S. to deliver a speech on “Scotland’s future” next week, as part of the Scottish government’s plans to become a more prominent presence internationally — and win friends in the SNP’s fight to secure Indyref2. The main event will be the speech at the Brookings Institute think tank in Washington next Monday, while Sturgeon will also meet some members of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday.
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DIGEST: French President Emmanuel Macron used a speech on Europe Day to put forward a sweeping, avant-garde but detail-light proposal to redraw the political map of the Continent with a new organization that would give Ukraine a closer relationship with the EU short of membership — and could even include the U.K. … Macron said it would take “decades” for Ukraine to join the EU and that the West should not “humiliate” Putin … The BBC has a fact check of Putin’s Victory Day speech.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: Meets at 11.25 a.m. for the Queen’s Speech in the Commons, followed by the speech in the Lords … From 2.30 p.m. the House of Commons will debate the speech until 10 p.m. at the latest … After that, Alba MP Neale Hanvey has an adjournment debate on the U.K.’s diagnostics industry.
RWANDA NEWS: The first group of asylum seekers will be told this week they could be sent to Rwanda under the government’s new scheme. Hone Secretary Patel expects to face a legal challenge. Sky has the story.
MENTAL HEALTH WEEK: Sunak is hosting an event this morning to mark mental health awareness week at No. 11 Downing Street. The event is being held with the No Time to Wait mental health campaign led by James Starkie, a former special adviser and now leading the 5654 & Co comms agency. This year’s focus is loneliness after the pandemic saw many spend long periods unable to see friends and loved ones. The campaign, which now has the backing of nearly 40 MPs from all three main parties, is calling for a mental health nurse for each GP surgery, with research showing around 40 percent of GP appointments relate to mental health. Health Secretary Sajid Javid recently agreed to meet the campaigners after top Red Wall MP Jonathan Gullis raised the campaign in the house of commons. Jonathan recently wrote movingly about his own mental health struggles in the Telegraph.
BLUE WALL WATCH: ConservativeHome have an event tonight on the Tory offer to the countryside, which might offer interest for blue wall watchers of any political persuasion after some of the losses there last week. Rural Business APPG Chair Julian Sturdy and Tory MP Selaine Saxby are among the speakers — register to watch from 7 p.m. here.
YESTERDAY IN NEW YORK: Playbook’s Eleni Courea joined London Mayor Sadiq Khan for the launch of a £10 million tourism campaign in New York City yesterday. After meeting NYC Mayor Eric Adams at city hall, Khan addressed a small crowd gathered around a makeshift stand, flanked by two red telephone boxes on Times Square. He introduced a short procession by Coldstream Guards and a musical performance from the cast of SIX as a taste of what the U.K. capital has to offer.
Leadership material: New Yorkers were agog as Khan was escorted by a clutch of reporters and flashing cameras up 7th Avenue and 51st Street to his next meeting (“do you know who that is?” one passerby was heard asking). The campaign is intended to encourage American tourists to return to London this summer in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and major concerts and exhibitions. After telling Playbook that Starmer shouldn’t resign if he is fined by Durham police yesterday, Khan insisted to reporters today that what the Labour leader is accused of is “a million miles away” from what happened in Downing Street and that Starmer has his full support.
Touching base: The main announcement of the day was the return of Major League Baseball to London, after its 2020 series was disrupted by COVID. The MLB announced it will hold regular-season games in 2023, 2024 and 2026, and Khan said yesterday he wanted to grow the number of Londoners watching and playing the sport at the grassroots level. After glad-handing baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. at MLB HQ, Khan met Hillary Clinton and addressed a reception of city hall’s investment arm, London & Partners, before jetting off to the West Coast overnight to meet Silicon Valley tech companies.
Living the high life: Tomorrow Khan is leading a “fact-finding mission” with health officials and trade groups on how the legalization of cannabis has worked in California. The findings will feed into city hall’s review of the feasibility of decriminalizing cannabis, which was announced in April last year. How this squares with Labour’s more hardline policy remains to be seen: The party was putting out pre-election attack adverts taking aim at the Lib Dems for wanting to decriminalize drugs as recently as last week.
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Policing Minister Kit Malthouse broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … talkTV (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … GB News (8.30 a.m.) …
Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (7.10 a.m.) … ITV GMB (7.20 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio breakfast (8.35 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley (Sky News): Former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika (7.45 a.m.) … Former Tory adviser Alex Deane (8.30 a.m.) … Former Black Rod David Leakey (9.45 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Starmer adviser Uma Kumaran (7.05 a.m.) … Former Birmingham and Bristol Airports CEO Paul Kehoe (7.40 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties (7.20 a.m.) … Shabnam Chaudhri, former detective superintendent at the Metropolitan Police (8 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkTV): Tory MP Matt Vickers (8.05 a.m.) … DUP MP Sammy Wilson (8.50 a.m.) … Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib (9.30 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire … Tory MP Ben Bradley … SNP MP Stewart Hosie … The Observer’s Sonia Sodha … The Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey.
The Briefing with Gloria De Piero (GB News 12 p.m.): Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jon Ashworth … Environment Minister Richard Benyon … Shadow Victims Minister Anna McMorrin … Tory MP Pauline Latham … Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse.
Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Labour MP Christian Wakeford … Independent government adviser Nimco Ali … Action for Afghanistan co-founder Zehra Zaidi.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): i columnist Ian Dunt and the Spectator’s Katy Balls … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): Yahoo’s Nadine Batchelor-Hunt and columnist at the Article Ali Miraj … talkTV (10 p.m.): Broadcaster Daisy McAndrew and veteran political journo Michael Crick.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: PM — I’ll strive night and day to ‘level up’ Britain.
Daily Mail: Starmer accused of piling pressure on police.
Daily Mirror: This is what honor looks like, Mr Johnson.
Daily Star: In a galaxy not so far away.
Financial Times: Starmer challenges Johnson on integrity with vow to quit if fined.
HuffPost UK: All or nothing — Starmer’s beergate gamble.
i: Starmer will quit if police fine him.
Metro: Get a fine? We will resign.
POLITICO UK: U.K. government stock take ahead of Queen’s Speech.
PoliticsHome: Ministers ‘very close’ to agreeing Northern Ireland Protocol Action as DUP boycotts Stormont.
The Daily Telegraph: Queen to miss State Opening of Parliament.
The Guardian: Starmer’s gamble — Leader pledges to quit if he is fined over beergate.
The Sun: Crown and out — Queen misses speech for first time in 59 years.
The Times: Starmer — I will quit if police fine me for beer.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ☁️☁️☁️ Warm, but cloudy most of the day. Highs of 20C.
BIRTHDAYS: Shadow Mental Health Minister Rosena Allin-Khan … Commons European scrutiny committee chairman Bill Cash … Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne … Labour peer Anna Healy … and writer Jon Ronson.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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